Self-defense groups continue to show force in Mexico

Two self-defense groups took to the streets on May 7 in Xaltianguis. Source: David Guzmán González, EFE.

05/17/19 (written by kheinle) — The Mexican Government’s ongoing battle to quell self-defense groups (grúpos de autodefensa) continues to make news. Such groups rose in 2013 and 2014 when community members took up arms to protect their communities. They quickly turned, however, into a three-front battle between such groups, organized crime groups, and government forces.

Autodefensas in Guerrero

More than six years later, parts of Mexico are still grappling with autodefensas. A recent shootout in the state of Guerrero, for example, made headlines when two groups battled in the streets of Xaltianguis, Acapulco in the early morning of May 7. The fight between the Unión de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero (UPOEG) and the Frente de Policías Comunitarios del Estado de Guerrero (Fupceg) left two or three individuals dead and several more wounded. The fight resulted in schools suspending classes and businesses closing up shop while the police and military forces secured the area. According to El Proceso, the confrontation allowed a competing autodefensa group, Los Dumbos, to assume control of that plaza. Guerrero Governor Héctor Astudillo Flores then called on the State’s District Attorney’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) to act against the self-defense groups operating in Acapulco and Chilpancingo.

In response, the State Board of Coordination for the Construction of Peace (La Mesa de Coordinación estatal para la construcción de la Paz) took swift action, agreeing to create a Mixed Operations Base (Base de Operaciones Mixtas) in Xaltianguis. La Jornada reports that it will be staffed by elements of the Mexican Army (Ejército Mexicano), Navy, (Secretaría de Marina Armada de México, SEMAR), the State’s Attorney’s General Office (FGE), State Police (Policía Estatal), and Acapulco’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP).

Autodefensas in Michoacán

Other states, meanwhile, have made more progress against self-defense groups. In Michoacán, for example, the autodefensas are on the decline. The Diario de Yucatán reports that only three self-defense groups are still active in that state, a 90% reduction from the 32 groups initially registered there in 2013. Operating in Coahuayana, Ostula, and La Ruana, these groups formed in response to the violence unleashed by the Knights Templar Organization (Los Caballeros Templarios). Now, continues the article, the three groups are all that remain. Although the autodefensa in Coahuayana has helped to maintain peace, the ones in Ostula and La Ruana are bringing more violence. Meanwhile, the other 29 groups have disbanded or the members have joined the municipal police, street gangs, or organized crime groups.

Still, the self-defense groups continue to pose a problem for the Mexican Government, in part because they blur the line between authority and civilian. Guerrero’s Governor, Héctor Astudillo, had to recently deny that his administration was protecting autodefensa leader Daniel Adame Pompa of Los Dumbos, a rejection that Adame Pompa confirmed. Instead, Adame Pompa took the opportunity to reiterate his reasoning for joining and leading the self-defense group. “Our safety and security are in the hands of authorities; but we’re not going to gamble with our integrity. If [the authorities] don’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves,” he said. For its part, the Fupceg self-defense group saw itself working more closely with the government when the group formed in late 2018. “We declare ourselves allies of the government and not enemies,” it wrote in a public communique. “…That is the only way the Mexican community is going to pursue cohesive development and peace for all,” reports La Jornada.

Sources:

Ocampo Arista, Sergio. “Forman comunitarios el Frente Unido de los Pueblos de la Sierra.” La Jornada. December 5, 2018.

“Los autodefensas se niegan a morir.” Diario de Yucatán. May 2, 2019.

De Dios Palma, Arturo. “Aumenta la tensión en Xaltianguis, Guerrero.” El Universal. May 8, 2019.

Briseño, Héctor. “Tras enfretamiento de autodefensas, refuerzan seguridad en Xaltianguis.” La Jornada. May 9, 2019.

Trujillo, Javier. “Los Dumbos no somos delincuentes: Daniel Adame.” MPS Guerrero Noticias. May 9, 2019.

Flores Contreras, Ezequiel. “Gobernador de Guerrero se deslinda del caso de las autodefensas.” Proceso. May 10, 2019.

Updates on the NSJP from Around the States

05/13/19 (written by kheinle) — It has been almost three years since the formal launch of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP), which former President Enrique Peña Nieto ushered in on June 18, 2016. Despite significant progress made nationwide in advancing the judicial system, critics continue to voice their frustration over the system’s weaknesses. Several updates on the successes and challenges around the states are provided below.

 

Coahuila

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The Governor of Coahuila, Miguel Riquelme, has been helping to lead the charge to broaden what crimes are dealt with through corporal punishment under the NSJP. The push would include crimes of car theft, drug dealing, and acts of aggression towards security forces. These issues were part of the discussion at the National Conference of Governors (Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores, CONAGO) held on April 30, 2019 in Mexico City.

Governor Riquelme’s frustrations stem from the allegation that criminals are able to find loopholes or cracks (rendijas legales) in the system that allow them to evade prosecution. He is advocating to see tougher punishments laid down and sentences given. Writes El Diario de Coahuila, Governor Riquelme “cautioned that [criminals] have already figured out how to evade prosecution in the new justice system, and therefore reform is being sought.” He continued, saying that the reform “would guarantee that criminals are punished and with bigger sentences, such as in the case of small-scale drug sales.”

This belief is counter, however, to the objective of the NSJP. The judicial reforms were not intended to simply make laws harsher and act as a deterrent, but rather to bring swifter, more efficient and transparent justice. Although Governor Riquelme also had the backing of some of his fellow governors at CONAGO, the overall satisfaction of those operating the NSJP have remained very high. A Justice in Mexico Justiciabarómetro report from 2016 found that 89% of those surveyed (including judges, prosecutors, and public defenders) thought the old judicial system needed to be formed and that the new system had had positive effects since being implemented in 2008. Additionally, roughly 90% of those surveyed thought the NSJP instilled greater confidence in authorities, and another 93% believed the new system expedited judicial processes. Thus, despite criticisms like that leveled by Governor Riquelme, which ought to be taken into consideration, the response to the NSJP has been largely positive.

 

Jalisco

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The head of Jalisco’s Security Cabinet (Gabinete de Seguridad de Jalisco), Macedonio Tamez, expressed his concern with the NSJP, arguing that the new system overly protects accused criminals. This has resulted, he alleges, in less criminals incarcerated because the judicial process through which prosecutors must go to get them there is cumbersome and inoperable. “The twisted new system makes it difficult to bring justice to many of the accused,” he said. “I would point out, for example, the amount of declarations made by Police that detention judges deem illegal simply because they don’t comply with a series of requirements that, to me, are excessive.”

Those requirements, however, are specifically designed to force police and prosecutors to improve the quality of criminal investigations, writes David Shirk and Octavio Rodriguez, Justice in Mexico’s Director and Program Coordinator, respectively, in an op-ed article from 2017. A strong legal defense for the accused helps limit the punitive discretion of both parties, they argue.

 

Michoacán

Source: Justice in Mexico.

On April 26, a workshop was in launched in Uruapan, Michoacán for lawyers of indigenous decent. Topics included how to work through the penal process, the accusatorial system, and overall preparation for oral trials. The 20-hour course spanned two weekends and was made available free of charge for up to 40 individuals. The series was facilitated in collaboration with the State Commission for the Development of Indigenous People (Comisión Estatal para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, CEDPI), the State Government of Michoacán (Gobierno del Estado), and the head of the Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal de Justicia).

 

San Luis Potosí

Source: Justice in Mexico.

The San Luis Potosí State Judiciary (Poder Judicial del Estado) facilitated a “First Responders” course in early May for members of Civil Protection (Protección Civil), Fire Fighters (Bombers Metropolitanos), and the Red Cross (Cruz Roja). This was part of the State’s effort to prepare first responders to act accordingly within the protocols established by the NSJP when responding to a scene. It included training on evidence, witness testimonies, and tending to crime scenes. Judge José Luis Ortiz Bravo explained that having trained first responders is critical because they play an important role in crime scenes and serving as witnesses.

This came on the heels of a series of similar trainings held by Federico Garza Herrera, San Luis Potosí’s State Attorney General (Fiscal General del Estado de San Luis Potosí, FGESLP), in February 2019. Those workshops were specifically held to train all municipal police as first responders to scenes. Garza Herrera acknowledged the importance of having municipal police trained in the processes and procedures of the NSJP, so that they can correctly parlay evidence and information to the judge, as needed. He referred to them as the “foundation” of the New Criminal Justice System.

 

Sources:

Cortés, Nancy et al. “Perspectivas del sistema de justicia penal en México: ¿Qué piensan sus operadores?” Justice in Mexico. November 2016.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Commentary: Mexico’s badly needed justice reforms in peril.” San Diego Union Tribune. August 11, 2017.

Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “El Justiciabarómetro mexicano.” Nexos. October 1, 2017.

“Anuncia fiscal capacitación permanente para la policía municipal y jueces auxiliares.” Pulso. February 18, 2019.

“Inicia taller sobre Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, dirigido a abogados de origen indígena.” Informa Oriente. April 26, 2019.

Rojas Ávila, Beatriz. “Abogados indígenas se capacitarán en materia de justicia penal oral.” Ner. April 26, 2019.

“Capacitan a rescatistas en nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Plano Informativo. May 9, 2019.

Escamilla, José Luis. “Lamentan que Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal dificulte que delincuentes pisen la cárcel.” Notisistema. May 11, 2019.

“Se impulse reforma a Legislación Penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. May 11, 2019.

Webpage. “Declaratorio de la LVI Reunión Ordinaria de la Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores.” Conferencia Nacional de Gobernadores. Last accessed May 12, 2019.

Organized crime-related incidents occur in Michoacán

Cop cars at Tizupan Police Station

Five police were kidnapped from the Tizupan Police Station seen here in Aquila, Michoacán. Photo: Secretaría de Seguridad Pública.

03/06/17 (written by D. Blanchard and K. Heinle) – Michoacán has witnessed several events in early 2017 surrounding organized crime-related activity that have kept the state in the news. On February 5 in the early hours of the morning, five police officers were kidnapped from their police station in the village of Tizupan, Aquila in Michoacán by alleged cartel members posing as military personnel. Several hours later, the alleged suspects called the station using a payphone to demand that the Tizupan Municipal Police step down in exchange for the release of the kidnapped officers.

After news broke, the mayor of Aquila, José Luis Artega, accused former members of the Knights Templar Organization (Los Caballeros Templarios, KTO), Jesús Cruz Birrueta, “El Chuy Playas,” and Fernando Cruz Tena, “El Tena,” of being behind the kidnapping, reported news outlet Milenio. According to authorities mentioned in the same report, the kidnapping and subsequent demands were part of the organized crime affiliates’ efforts to regain control of the drug trafficking operations along the Pacific Coast, of which Michoacán is a prominent route. Michoacán’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) announced soon thereafter that security in the region had been strengthened and a search party was formed to locate the kidnapped officers.

On February 8, the five police officers were safely let go. A leader of the self-defense group (grúpo de autodefensa) in the region, Cemeí Verdía Zepeda, attributed their release to the “joint work of the state and local security forces, as well as the strength of the indigenous communities of Aquila.” He was unable, however, to give further details of the operation. Michoacán’s head of government (Secretario de Gobierno), Adrián López Solís, meanwhile, called for an investigation to determine who is responsible for the kidnapping, which appears to be ongoing.

Mayor seated for interview

Aquila Mayor José Luis Arteaga. Photo: Especial, Proceso.

This is not the first time the KTO’s presence in Aquila has caught the public’s attention. In 2013, Aquila’s residents rose up against the Knights Templar, fighting to regain control of their community that the organized crime group had secured. Since then, a statewide strategy to target criminal activity has been in force. As Justice in Mexico reported throughout the years, the strategy led to some noteworthy success in specifically bringing down the KTO. The KTO’s fourth and final leader, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez, was arrested in 2015 following the take down of the KTO’s other prominent leaders the year before. 2014 also saw the arrest of the sixth mayor in Michoacán with ties to the Knights Templar, a trend that exposed the deep-seated corruption within the state.

Just one month after the police officers’ kidnapping, a leader of the organized crime group (OCG) Los Viagras was shot and killed in a shootout between alleged rival cartels. Juan Carlos Sierra Santana, “La Sopa,” was gunned down on March 5 in Aguililla, Michoacán. The Secretaries of Public Security (SSP) and National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) confirmed the La Sopa’s death. He was one of seven brothers who allegedly helped coordinate and direct Los Viagras under the leadership of “El Gordo Santana,” writes Proceso.

Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles Conejo acknowledged in fall 2016 the “fragile calm” that existed in Michoacán thanks to current and previous administrations’ work to unify police (e.g., Unified Command, Policía Única), decrease levels of crime and violence, and strengthen public security and stability in part because of the military’s presence in the streets, among others. Still, some recognize “the problems Aureoles inherited” when he took office in 2015. Mayor Alfonso Martínez Alcázar of Morelia, Michoacán, for example, noted in Proceso that these challenges have gripped the state for years.

The kidnapping and safe release of the five policemen in Tizupan, as well as the death of Los Viagras’ leader La Sopa, shine a light on the ongoing presence of organized crime in the Michoacán region, and the coordinated efforts between federal, state, and local government to protect rule of law.

Sources:

“Mexico’s federal forces take down third Knights Templar leader in three-month span.” Justice in Mexico. April 1, 2014.

“News Monitor.” Vol. 9, No. 10. Justice in Mexico. October 2014.

“Servando ‘La Tuta’ Gómez captured in Michoacán.” Justice in Mexico. March 1, 2015.

Castellanos J., Francisco. “’Michoacán vive una calma frágil’, dice Aureoles en su primer informe.” Proceso. September 18, 2016.

“Secuestran a 5 policías en Aquila.” Milenio. February 6, 2017.

“Liberan a policies secuestrados en Aquila, Michoacán.” Proceso. February 8, 2017.

Arrieta, Carlos. “Aquila: liberan a los cinco policías secuestrados.” El Universal. February 9, 2017.

Castellanos J., Francisco. “En enfrentamiento muere uno de los líderes de Los Viagros en Michoacán.” Proceso. March 5, 2017.